Small business owners everywhere wonder how Google ranks websites and how their site can obtain the Google holy grail: the top spot on the first page of a search result. Websites listed on the first page get the vast majority of all clicks, while sites on page 2 get fewer than 6% of all clicks (and it goes down from there). As an Airbnb host, you're a small business owner, too. Many hosts wonder how Airbnb ranks listings, and how their listing can be shown to more potential guests. Airbnb helpfully explains a little how their search algorithm works, and combining this knowledge with our experience as a Superhost, we're sharing 11 ways Airbnb copies Google's search algorithm and how you can help your listing to rank higher for new guests.
Google's goal is to rank websites that provide the best user experience. Similarly, Airbnb's guiding principle is to "reward hosts that deliver a great experience to guests." It's only natural that Airbnb copies the most successful and powerful search engine to give its users the best experience possible.
- Airbnb is a purely organic search engine. This is different than Google today, but even Google started out as organic only, and with very strong opinions about ads. Airbnb has no subscription system; you cannot pay to rank higher in your local search results. You are instead ranked based on a number of factors, some of which Airbnb shares, some of which they do not. Further, searching for the same type of home on two separate days will usually yield different search results (assuming there is competition – naturally, if you have a monopoly on vacation rental homes in your area you'll get all the bookings by default).
- You're rewarded for updating your calendar. Just like Google rewards recent content with higher rankings, Airbnb rewards recently updated calendars. Airbnb wants to encourage hosts who care about and are connected with their business because they're more likely to care about and be connected with their guests. Not to mention, some guests want to book a place far in advance, and having an updated calendar can help you nab those bookings. However, updating your calendar sends a simple "ping" to Airbnb, which means that even if you don't actually need to update your calendar you can still manipulate this notification by blocking off dates in the future, and then unblocking them. Presto – updated calendar!
- You're rewarded for being an active user. Google rewards websites that consistently produce content their users love and interact with. Airbnb has the same outlook: hosts who log into the site frequently are rewarded with higher rankings. If you're on the site frequently, especially daily, you're probably responding to guest inquiries within 24 hours (a requirement for getting Superhost status), your calendar is probably updated, and your listing is probably as updated and optimized as it can be, all of which contribute to a stellar user experience. However, you can still trigger this even if you don't need to access the site when responding to guests (for example, you get text or email alerts for inquiries) simply by opening www.airbnb.com in your browser window once a day.
- You're rewarded for better photos. Google loves photos. That's because people love photos. The bigger, richer, more clear, the better. There's nothing worse as a guest than arriving at a vacation rental and being disappointed because the photos clearly did not convey the space. Or for the host, having low quality photos that don't accurately show how great the property is and missing out on bookings. Fortunately, Airbnb has solved this issue: every eligible property is entitled to FREE professional photography. That's right. Airbnb will send a professional photographer to your property on their dime and within about a month you'll have high resolution, high quality, beautiful images for your listing. PLUS each image will have the Airbnb watermark, a signal to guests that someone else has actually been to your property, seen it, and has the stunning photos to prove that yes, this property is exactly how it's described. Not to mention, properties with professional photos are ranked higher than ones that have cell phone photos. The math here is very simple: get free professional photos and get ranked higher inside Airbnb search results.
- You're rewarded as a Superhost. Google rewards brands in search results because people prefer brands they're already familiar with. Similarly, Airbnb rewards their version, which are Superhosts. A Superhost receives up to 5x more exposure than a non-superhost. The criteria is short and straightforward, but not always easy. Some of the requirements include hosting more than 10 stays per year, receive a 5-star review on at least 80% of your stays, never cancel (without explicit extenuating circumstances), and respond to 90% of your inquiries within 24 hours. Not terribly arduous, but miss on any of those factors and you'll fail. Luckily, Airbnb reviews hosts quarterly so you do have time to correct errors. An Airbnb management company can ease the burden and help you attain Superhost status faster.
- You're rewarded with Instant Book. Google now lets you book with a hotel, airline, or restaurant reservation directly from the search results page. Good for the user, not as good for the website. Airbnb created Instant Book, a feature that allows guests to book a listing without any communication with the host. An Instant Book listing receives 4x more exposure than a listing without Instant Book. Airbnb believes this makes the transaction more seamless and efficient, which is highly advantageous to Airbnb and the entire ecosystem of online booking, since many transactions fall down when there is back and forth required between parties. However, Instant Book is utterly dependent on your calendar being updated.
- You're rewarded for immediate responses. Google is all about speed: fast websites, fast mobile sites, fast responses to comments, quick to respond and adapt to algorithm updates. Airbnb is on the same track. To be a Superhost, you must respond to inquiries within 24 hours, but you'll be rewarded further for responding within 1 hour (for initial inquiries, not every communication coming from an already booked guest, though we recommend fast responses there, too).
- You're rewarded for accepting bookings. This one might seem a little obvious, but hang with us. Having a favorable Airbnb acceptance rate is an important metric, and the more often you accept guests the better you will be rewarded. When choosing to decline a booking, it's better to formally select "decline" as opposed to merely messaging the guest or not responding at all.
- You're rewarded for connecting to social media profiles. While there's no real evidence that Google rewards social media activity in search results, there are enough correlative studies to suggest that Google cares about what people do on your social profiles, especially Twitter. But more to the point, Google does reward websites and companies who at least seem to be run by real people. This is what social media is great at – showing the world there's a real person behind the business. Social media connections matter to Airbnb for this exact reason: Airbnb wants to connect people. That's the core of their mission, so link your Airbnb profile to your social media profiles (namely Facebook and LinkedIn). The bigger your network, the more credible you are and more likely to be considered to be a trust-worthy and valuable option for guests. Plus, all that real world making connections stuff can be pretty great, too.
- You're rewarded for links and mentions: One of the most important metrics in the Google algorithm is links from other sites. This is an indication of credibility, and the better the site is that links to your site the better your site will seem (which is usually rewarded with higher rankings). Links from social media count! Promote your Airbnb listing on social media platforms is good for business, but also good for rankings. Simply view your listing as a traveler would and share that link to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, plus put them into your profiles. Those links count, and you might even get more links and mentions as other people start to share.
- You're rewarded for being you. It's true! Google is very good at providing search results based on the user (their location, their search history, their Google reviews, their device, and a whole bunch of other things). This makes search results more relevant to the person, improves click-through-rates, and provides a better overall experience, which is what Google's end game is. Airbnb is experimenting with the same idea by pairing guests with hosts who prefer the same things. By taking into consideration the hosts' preferences (how many guests they tend to like, the days of the week they approve the most bookings, the length of stay, etc.), they'll show different listings to different people based on what the guest is looking for. So far this has increased the number of bookings on the site and it presumably is making a better user experience.
Bonus: Do not cancel a reservation. Ever. This is a critically critical concept. Unless you're experiencing the rarest of instances in which Airbnb allows cancellations without penalty, you will be penalized, hard. You will lose your Superhost status and you will likely see significant drop off in inquiry activity. You need to provide sufficient evidence in the event you do claim extenuating circumstances. This is one way in which Airbnb has differentiated their algorithm from Google's, and it makes a ton of sense and is so important we had to include it.
A caveat for all of these tips: again like Google, Airbnb is constantly updating what factors into their search algorithm. Things can and will change, probably significantly. Sure, it might be easy enough to game the system because it's still new. But Airbnb will get wise to the games and will make it harder to rank without being a truly spectacular host. So let's make it easy on everyone and just be as great as we can be from the beginning. The rest will come naturally.
And if this has made it seem like you need to be connected to Airbnb around the clock in order to do well renting out your home, a vacation rental management company like Air Concierge could do wonders to improve your Airbnb rankings, make your guests happier, and earn more revenue for you. Drop us a line if you want to chat more!